From the days of early pioneers of the region to recent times, countless tragedies have occurred in the White Mountains. From the failed attempts of hardy hikers braving the elements on the Presidential Range to the wretched outcome of love gone woefully wrong and even a story of an entire family buried alive by a mountain slide, many souls have perished in the White Mountains.
It’s not too far-fetched, then, that folks in these parts have had some inexplicable and eerie encounters. Eager to hear about the spirits that might lurk in these mountains I asked some hikers to share their stories. There are many written legends of hauntings in the White Mountains and surrounding areas but for the purpose of this article I am writing about the first-hand accounts I’ve been told. The stories in quotes below are from hikers from whom I’ve personally received an account. Where I thought appropriate I’ve added in a back story.
Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I would get much feedback on this subject and although I find it entirely fascinating I thought I’d really be digging for information. Surprisingly there were more people that have a story to tell than expected. Everyone was happy to share their experience. Not surprisingly, many of the experiences occurred in and around Crawford Notch on the Willey Range and surrounding Mt. Washington. Enjoy!
Quest for a Sunset Hike Gone Wrong
“My experience happened in December 2017. For whatever reason, I thought I would run up and catch sunset from Willard, which has a great vista view of Crawford Notch. It would help to remember that said vista actually faces East… oops! It was just about dusk and I had passed several coming down. I had made it to the viewpoint with about 30 minutes of light. I knew I was the last one on the mountain that evening.
I went looking for the high point of Willard, since the true summit is not actually on the trail, to see if I could find a canister or a blaze. After about 20 minutes, I finally surmised the rock with the tree growing out of it was the summit and used the rapidly waning light to get myself back onto a trail so I wasn’t bushwhacking in the dark.
I started down towards the car and something just did not feel right. I did not feel alone, despite being on the tiny area of the outlook and not seeing anyone since I had been there. It felt like there was a set of eyes on me just off trail, and that feeling persisted for about 100 yards. Something compelled me to stop and just say “Hello? Who’s there?” into the darkness. The response was an unmistakable shrill laughter a child makes. The response was instantaneous upon my question. That might have been the fastest known descent of Willard in history. I felt eyes following me the entire way to the car. A very odd and unique experience. It sure did give me the Willeys and still makes me question venturing into Crawford Notch after dark alone!’
The Willey Family tragedy occurred at the base of Mt. Willey in Crawford Notch. Sam Willey, his wife, 5 children and 2 workers were crushed to death in a slide that careened off the mountain and into the notch. All bodies were recovered with the exception being 3 of the Willey children. It is said that these 3 children haunt the notch today, running wild and harassing unsuspecting hikers.
Jeremiah Willey Still Roams the Mountain He Called Home
“On August 6th, 2018 I hiked Tom, Field and Willey with a friend. As we started on the spur to Tom I asked my friend 3 times if she heard steel drums. All 3 times she said no. I was in the lead on the descent of Willey. After climbing down the ladders I looked about 200 feet ahead and there was a 10 or 11 year old boy wearing a white shirt and blue shorts sitting on the left side of the trail tapping a stick. My first thought was who would let their child be out here alone. It was around 4:30/5 PM. He looked at me with an impish look and then right before my eyes he disappeared! I did not tell my friend….I knew about the Willey house as I grew up in Wolfeboro. I googled the story and learned that three of the children were never found and one of them was an 11 year old boy! Very cool experience! I will never forget him sitting there tapping that stick and looking at me. Then just vanishing.…I will cherish my experience!”
I wrote previously of other first hand accounts on Mt. Willey. One hiker was lifted off the ladders and thrown to the ground and another hiker saw a presence that disappeared before her eyes. You can read these accounts and more details of the Willey tragedy here.
These stories make it very clear what it means to get the ‘willies’, especially while hiking in Crawford Notch.
‘The Presence’ on Mt. Washington Summit and Surrounding Area
Mt. Washington was first named Agiocochook, a Native American word loosely translating to “Home of the Great Spirit.” Speaking with a hiker and former employee of the summit it seems Agiocochook is an appropriate name even today. He tells me that Mt. Washington summit is “100% haunted!”
I also have heard stories about one of the buildings where tourists are forbidden to enter and it’s not frequently visited by employees. One of the rooms inside the building has a bed in it. No one that has ever tried to fall asleep in the bed has been able to. Ever. There’s also a Bible in that room. The Bible is always found turned to a different page even when no one has been in the room. “
He especially does not like the Tip Top House.
The Tip-Top House is the oldest surviving building on the summit. It’s a historic former hotel built in 1853. It’s said to be the oldest extant mountain-top hostelry in the world. Today the Summit House features exhibits showcasing the mountain’s history.
I spoke with an avid hiker in the area. He is especially sensitive to the paranormal and has had countless encounters both on and off the hiking trails. He also does not like the Tip Top House.
“I went into the Tip Top House with my mom after riding the Cog up. Too many ghosts to count. I suspect it’s a gathering place for many who died nearby. I will not be going back into it.”
He’s also had many encounters on the Crawford Path.
Considering that the Crawford Path is the oldest maintained hiking trail in the United States and that there have been approximately 200 recorded deaths in the Presidentials, it makes sense that there would be a lot of activity along this route. In fact, there has always been activity on Crawford Path, even experienced in 1819 when the path was being built. Somewhere around Mt. Eisenhower particularly it is said that Ethan Crawford and a small group of woodsmen felt something so sinister watching them that it made the hair stand up on their necks. Two of the men left the job and would not return. They called it ‘The Presence’.
“I’ve been followed by Ghosts multiple times on the Crawford path during the winter above treeline. I can hear their foot steps crunching in the snow. If I stop quick, I hear a few more steps and then it stops. Once while walking on Crawford Path I saw a woman in front of me. She was dressed in period clothing, circa 19th century. She didn’t move but stood and watched me walk by. Once by her I turned around and she was gone. ” Lucy Crawford herself, perhaps?
Hut Visits – with Unexpected Guests!
Lake of the Clouds Hut
Croo’s for many years have spoken of a presence or feeling there. To this day guests and croo members refer to the ‘Presence’ when they speak of seeing faces peer into the windows of the hut or feel an icy cold hand touch them on the shoulder. In the 80’s, early in the season, a croo member named George spent a night there alone. He was found the next day crouching and hiding ready to strike out. He was terrified and traumatized by a group of ghoulish faces he saw during the night.
The hut was built near the spot where two hikers had perished in the unforgiving elements of the Presidential Range. Guests report all sorts of noises and sightings in Lakes of the Clouds Hut. As reported by AMC and a first hand account below, guests of the hut are often visited by a spirit at night.
‘I have always felt something there, particularly looking at the photos in the hallway of the croos from the 40’s and 50’s. When I stay there, if I sleep in the last bunkroom on the right, regardless if I have been hiking for a day or a week, I have the same dream. It is so vivid that it is difficult to separate from being real and a dream. In my dream, a man climbs in to bed with me. It feels like the same man each time. I don’t feel scared or nervous. He cuddles with me but once I wake up he is gone and doesn’t come back until the next time I return and go back to sleep in the same room. If I sleep in a different room, he does not visit me. When I look at pictures of previous croo members, I feel like it is Ben Campbell, but I am not sure.’
Ben Campbell was a croo member for the Greenleaf Hut. He is described by fellow croo members as “A handsome fellow with brown hair, laughing eyes, an impish grin, bright and one of the funniest guys we’d ever known, Ben Campbell was a friend of all who knew him.” Ben’s dream was to manage the Lakes of the Clouds hut. Unfortunately he died while hiking in Scotland and never realized this dream in life. His family, knowing how much he loved the White Mountains and the huts, brought his boots to the Greenleaf Hut as a memorial. Guests at the hut would report hearing someone wearing boots walking around at night and the boots kept showing up in different spots every morning. The boots were then brought to the Lakes of the Clouds Hut and that is where they remain. They no longer move from place to place as they are nailed to the wall of the croo room!
There is a basement in Lakes of the Clouds Hut. It’s been used as a hiker refuge when the hut is closed for the winter. Hikers have called it ‘The Dungeon’. Many people speak of opting not to take refuge there as it’s dark, dank and creepy. “I have been there when the door to the basement is open and I cannot approach it. I get this feeling that there are many souls down there but not all of them are benevolent.”
Mizpah Spring Hut
“I always get the feeling that there is someone extra there. Someone watching. Not bad or good, just watching. The croo tell stories of a girl named Betsy who drowned in the Dry River and was carried to the hut and was there for a night before being carried down to the valley. There are stories of hearing rain or water dripping even when it is dry as a bone outside. One night I did hear water dripping during the night but tried to convince myself that it was something dripping in the bathroom….”
In August of 1971, 16 year old Betsy Roberts of Newton, MA was camping with her family near the Mizpah Spring Hut. Tropical Storm Doria blew in and heavy rain caused a flash flood. Betsy fell into the Dry River and disappeared. Betsy’s body was found down the mountain side in the stream bed. It’s told that Croo members carried Betsy’s body back to the hut, placed it in plastic, and put it on a table in the cold cold storage area under the hut. They would bring it down to Crawford Notch the next day. That night, in their grief, Betsy’s parents thought they could hear Betsy’s voice murmuring for their help. In the morning the Croo went down into the basement to retrieve the body bag to carry it down the Crawford Path. When they walked into the room, they were surprised to see that the body was no longer on the table. It was found on the other side of the room. When the plastic was opened it appeared to have been clawed at from the inside indicating that Betsy had not drowned in the flood, but had been hypothermic and unconscious. During the night, she became conscious enough to try and call for help while clawing to free herself. Slowly, she suffocated and died in the basement of the hut.
The Legend of Chocorua’s Curse
Although much has occurred in Crawford Notch, one of the White Mountain’s most infamous ‘haunted hikes’ is on Mt. Chocorua .
Legend has it that a Native American Chief named Chocorua jumped to his death on the mountain after cursing all white settlers. He was friendly with the settlers for a time and left his son in the care of a the Campbell family while he was called away. When he returned he found that his son had died drinking poison that Mr. Campbell used to kill foxes. To get revenge on the family, Chocorua killed the wife and the children and left them in the house for Mr. Campbell to find. Mr. Campbell climbed to the summit of the mountain and shot Chocorua. Before he died, Chocorua cursed all white settlers and then he jumped to his death. His spirit is said to haunt Mt. Chocorua even today. A hiker told me her beautiful story of an encounter on Mt. Chocorua.
“I love Mt. Chocorua and have climbed it over 25 times; I have honestly lost count. Only once, I climbed it alone. I got to the top and there was one couple, and one elderly male solo hiker at the summit. Shortly after I arrived, the others left the top and I had it to myself. I remember it was a Tuesday, and after everyone had been gone for a while, and I was still alone, a moaning sound began emanating from the air around me. It is hard to describe. A keening, almost musical sound. I told myself it was the wind blowing through the rocks, but it undulated like…maybe a Native American chant? I began to speak out loud and used the name Chocorua as if I was addressing his spirit, and I was immediately filled with a sense of reverence. It moved me to tears and I didn’t want it to stop. Alas, the voices of other hikers intruded, the sounds stopped, and I have never had anything like that happen again. It was beautiful.”
And from another hiker…
“My most recent experience was just below the summit of Chocorua and it was one of the most powerful and overwhelming experiences to date. I can’t explain it except that I was climbing up the cone on the Piper trail and I stopped dead in my tracks and absolutely broke down. It was early, just after sunrise and no one around and I wasn’t tired or feeling anything prior to it. I couldn’t move, I felt like I had been boxed in from going up or down or sideways and I had to lay down on the rocks and close my eyes for a few minutes. When I came back around I had the strangest sense of calm and quiet and this squirrel and little bird were just sitting with me, and I just got up and kept going like it never happened. “
A Visit from an Old Friend
“On Gunstock, my friend and I were hiking down the Brook Trail on a rather gray day, and it was a split second where I thought someone was walking towards us and as soon as he got to my friend he was gone but it was so fast and silent that I didn’t realize what I saw until it was over…. I stopped and told my friend how weird it was and even said what he looked like. This is where it gets really weird… she had a friend that she had never told me about, that she used to hike with all over the Belknaps years ago who had taken his own life, and she said I had described him. She felt totally at ease and peaceful at that moment.”
Feelings of Doom, Random Cigarette Smoke and More
As mentioned in my introduction, I was pleasantly surprised with the responses I received from fellow hikers when I reached out on the topic. It almost got to the point where I thought I’d never get an article written because the stories kept pouring in! It’s a good problem to have.
“I had a sensation on the ridge of Cabot of something dark and ominous, and I did not love the feeling inside the cabin, either. Loneliness turned to anger is what it felt like in there. Usually I love what those little mountain cabins/lean-to’s feel like.”
“I was on Cabot, and felt so unsettled and icky on the summit…… I felt like it was a dark and sad place and couldn’t get away from it fast enough.”
“Often my experiences involve unexplained smells… I have had a lot of times where deep in the woods, where no one is around and I smell cigarette smoke, it’s really strange and this one always makes me laugh because I’m like there it is again! I have been with friends during this and they don’t smell it!”
“I have a cabin at the base of Sandwich Dome and Flat Mountain. There is a section of road on the way in that my parents told me that they wandered up into the woods from and found an old sap house. I tried walking up there one time alone and got such a feeling of animosity that I had to turn around. I have never had that happen anywhere else that strongly. I often hike alone and am not nervous about it but that day there was such a feeling of doom. “
” I once felt as though I was falling backward on a technical ascent of trail (up to Carter’s Dome), but something pushed my back/torso forward to keep me on my feet. I figured it was my mom, who had passed. It was strange but not creepy at all. Felt loving.”
I am happy to say that I’ve never encountered anything paranormal while hiking (that I know of!). It’s likely now that I will be taking a different perspective when coming across some of the more historically significant areas and structures. In a way the past is merging with the present on the trails and if anything it makes me feel closer to the vibrant history of these grand White Mountains.
Last modified: October 19, 2018